I am writing this post as a response to the Black Girl Dangerous post “From One Skinny Girl to Another: A Few words on Fat Phobia” – which if you haven’t read –STOP READING THIS NOW AND GO READ IT. In truth, I have wanted to write this post for a long time but always felt unsure about how to articulate myself and if this conversation would be welcomed.
The Black Girl Dangerous post brought up a lot of my own feelings about the ways women interact with each other’s bodies. I spent a good portion of my young life hating my body and being cruel to it as a result of that hate. Having moved into a place of acceptance and healing, I have also reflected on ways this hate became internalized from outside messages. What I realized is that the ways we speak with other people’s bodies is one factor in internalizing body hate and fat-phobia.
As one person I don’t believe I can change the massive amounts of fat-phobic body hating messages women receive on a daily basis, but I can, out of love and respect for my friends and other women, change the way I speak about bodies. About a year ago I adopted two rules when it comes to body talk. The first is simple: I don’t comment on people’s weight.
As women I often feel the first thing people notice about us is our bodies and thus our weight. How many times have you run into an old friend on the street and they say, “Look at you! Did you lose weight?” (whether you have or not). Or you are getting ready to go out with friends and someone says, “That outfit makes you look so skinny”.
The default compliments about women always seem to revolve around our bodies and weight. Whatever happened to saying to a woman, “Wow- you seem so happy!” or “That outfit is just like your personality- bright and spunky”? It is no wonder so many women fixate on their weight, when all around us we are being sent messages that that is the first, and only, thing others notice about us.
I avoid talking about another’s weight because it isn’t the first thing I want to notice about my friends. I’d rather notice if they are smiling, frowning, laughing, or angry. Even when a friend comes up to me, gushing about how much weight they have lost, I focus on positive actions instead of their bodies.
“It’s great that you have fallen in love with eating kale every night! It’s so good for you!”
“It sounds like you are having a lot of fun at (insert exercise program here) and really enjoying yourself.”
I do this because women spend enough time obsessing about their bodies on their own and it is nice to feel like there are people in our lives who aren’t scrutinizing our weight under a microscope.
My second rule is I never associate losing weight with “looking good”. The first reason is obvious- who is to say what looks good? Lots of fat people look hot! And lots of skinny people look hot! And lots of lanky people look hot and lots of muscular people look hot and lots of tall people look hot and lots of short people look hot and lots of average heighted people look hot- what they have in common is they look happy and confident.
The second reason is that not all weight loss is voluntary. Last year I had a stomach condition that made it impossible for me to eat most foods without ending up in bed for hours in pain. Due to a limited diet and a fear of eating I lost weight rapidly. Every time someone said to me, “Wow you’ve lost so much weight! You look so good!” I wanted to slap them.
I couldn’t eat, and when I did I was in pain. I missed work and school on a weekly basis and I was scared because my doctor didn’t know what was wrong. I remember one day, after eating half a cup of oatmeal and ending up in pain, I burst into tears with my girlfriend in the park because of the exhaustion of being in constant pain. Does that sound good?
During this time it was my girlfriend who taught me to be concerned about this weight loss. Up until this point I was used to thinking about weight loss as good, desirable, sexy, yet when my girlfriend looked at my body, she wasn’t turned on, she was worried. When I began to recover I mentioned to my girlfriend that I was gaining back the weight I lost and she said, “Good. You were so sick and losing too much weight.” For the first time in my life, “good” was associated with gaining weight.
Six months after I recovered I was talking to a friend about how I bought a dress for an event during that time period that no longer fit. I said I was okay with it because I was too thin and my friend replied, “Well I thought you looked cute.” This comment, meant to be a compliment, made me feel like crap. Now that I was healthy and able to eat a normal diet, was I no longer cute?
My friend wasn’t being malicious, in fact, she was trying to be complimentary- but she was also speaking to me the way we are programmed to speak to other women about their weight. You were thin, so you were cute. You lost weight, so you looked good.
It was this moment that truly solidified my rules of body engagement. Words and language are powerful messengers and what we say to each other impacts the way we interact with our bodies, especially when it comes to our weight. Often we talk about weight unconsciously, in the social norm women have become accustomed to, but to me, remaining unconscious and complacent in this norm is a form of fat-phobia and perpetuates body hate.
The crux of the Black Girl Dangerous blog is a call to action- urging women of all sizes to step up against body hate and fat-phobia. For me, my rules of body engagement are just the beginning in my part in this call. I hope that by writing this others will be encouraged to step up to this call- maybe by examining the language they use when talking about bodies with others or adopting some of their own rules of body engagement.
And if you already have some- what are they?
Excellent Resources on this Topic: